“So I just found a shed antler, and there’s a monster, monster tom at 20 metres looking at me. A monster tom cougar. And no, I don’t have a gun. I have nothing. And he is huge.”
With those words, Adam Bartsch began an hour-long dance with what he and his wife estimate to be a young, 140-pound, tom cougar. Bartsch captured the entire thing on video.
Filmmaker and hunting instructor Chantelle Bartsch says it happened on Thursday. She said her husband was on a popular walking trail just north of Campbell River looking for antlers and setting trail cameras when he felt an eerie feeling.
“He described it as the hairs on the back of his neck standing up, and he looked up and there was a cougar eyeballing him,” she said.
Adam actually had a cougar tag in his pocket, but the area where the encounter occurred is closed to firearms, and Chantelle said his machete was in a backpack he had put down during his walk.
WATCH: Cougar encounter caught on video
So the pair stared each other down — repeatedly.
“This little game went on for about an hour. He actually three times did scare off the cougar successfully, or at least he thought successfully,” Chantelle said.
As he made his way down the trail setting up more wildlife cameras, Chantelle said Adam thought he’d lost the cat — calling out repeatedly, to no effect. He tried again, this time using his hunting predator call.
“And the cat was actually watching him. The cat was hiding behind a tree the whole time.”
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After more than an hour Adam and the cat went their separate ways. But he and his wife, both licensed taxidermists, later returned to the site to try and get a better sense of the animal.
“We did some more investigation and took a few measurements and such of the tracks and just looking in the mud, and we estimated this particular tom cougar to be 140 pounds,” Chantelle said. “And he’s still growing. He’s a younger cat. He probably will be one of the largest cougars we will ever see in the area.
“He definitely was a very full, full healthy cougar. He had no signs of injury. And he was very brave. The attitude he had was that he was claiming that area and did not want to leave.”
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Cause for concern?
The BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) says it hasn’t had any unusual reports of cougar activity in the area recently, but says the encounter is a good reminder about respecting wildlife.
“Here on Vancouver Island, and in particular the North Island, we have some of the highest cougar densities in North America, so I stress that education is key,” said North Island General Duty Officer Steve Petrovcic.
Petrovcic added that anyone who does see a cougar should report it to the COS, which helps officers understand where the animals are hunting or if they are hanging around a particular area.
He said the COS would only take action against a cougar if it had shown signs of becoming aggressive.
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Petrovcic says anyone heading into the wilderness should review cougar and bear safety, and know what to do if they have an encounter.
“Stop. Maintain a general visual of where that cougar is at all times. We never turn our back, and we never run,” he said. “Back away slowly, arms up above our head making ourselves looking big.”
He said if you are walking with children or pets, pick them up — or, if you can’t, gather them together in a group.
Chantelle, who also teaches cougar- and bear-aware courses, echoed that advice, adding that while people shouldn’t be afraid of the animals, they should respect them — and remember that it is their territory.
“These cougars do live here. They were here before us. There’s been a lot of people asking us for the exact location, but I assure them that cougar is no longer in that area, they move quite regularly.”
She added that people should keep their small pets indoors and always keep their dogs on a leash. Walkers and hikers should also make noise when on a trail — either with noisemakers or by talking loudly — and if they do have an encounter, throw sticks or rocks to try and scare the cat off, she said.